Fish Wars: Have your fish cake and eat it
A silly spat about seafood shows the sort of compromises that Brexit will force
Britain's fishing industry is a tiddler, contributing less than 0.1% of GDP. But the island nation has great affection for its fleet.
During last year's Brexit referendum campaign, a flotilla of trawlermen steamed up the Thames to protest against European Union fishing quotas.
On July 2nd Michael Gove, the Brexiteer environment secretary (who claims that his father's Aberdeen fish business was sunk by EU rules), announced that Britain would “take back control” of its waters by unilaterally withdrawing from an international fishing treaty.
Gutting such agreements is strongly supported by coastal communities.
The pro-Brexit press cheered Mr Gove's bold announcement.
But landing a new deal for British fishermen will be legally complex, expensive to enforce, oblige Britain to observe European rules that it has had no hand in setting and, most likely, leave its businesses and consumers worse off than before.
It is, in other words, a case study of the Brexit negotiations as a whole.
The EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was drawn up before Britain joined, to its disadvantage.
But membership has allowed Britain to improve the policy.
Countries' quotas are now set on a basis that is more scientific than political.
Unwanted fish can no longer be discarded at sea, which has helped to reverse the depletion of stocks.
Unpicking decades of tangled legal agreements will be harder than it looks.
Mr Gove has initiated Britain's withdrawal from the London Fisheries Convention.
But Michel Barnier, the European Commission's Brexit negotiator, argues that this 1964 agreement has since been superseded by the CFP.
Regardless of these conventions, foreign fishermen may claim historic fishing rights going back decades or even centuries.
Many of them have set up units in Britain to buy quotas from British fishermen.
Unless the government overturns these property rights by decree, it may face a large compensation bill.